With its historical collections and vintage buildings, Kern County Museum is home to a multitude of memories already, but the man who runs the place is hoping to make many more this holiday season with an event celebrating Christmas past.
In what executive director Roger Perez believes is a first, the museum is expanding its annual one-day holiday event into a weeks-long extravaganza that will feature ice skating, sledding, lights, hayrides, period carolers and more, spread out around the grounds at Pioneer Village.
"The main comment we heard back (in 2012) was that many people wanted to go but didn't make it out that day," said Perez, who was hired to run the museum last year, just weeks before the holiday season.
"We wanted to figure out a way to make Christmas here bigger. This year we were able to accommodate what people wanted and give them more. There's the lamplight tour and so much more."
The event will open Friday and continue until Jan. 4. In addition to the traditional lamplight tour -- the focus of previous holiday events -- there will be four light shows, including one on a hayride and the animated Christmas tree set to music. The 40-foot tree, decked out in more than 100,000 lights, will act as a beacon in the night, drawing in those looking for holiday fun.
There also will be carolers in 1800s period costumes roaming the grounds, and museum docents will guide groups on tours. The museum has the unique opportunity to not only entertain but educate, Perez said.
"Here, we can look into Christmas past and explore history through holiday eyes," he said.
Christmas Town, as the new event is called, comes just weeks after the conclusion of a similar event that centered on Halloween. For the new project, Perez is continuing his partnership with Mike Wilbur, whose company transferred longtime haunted attraction Talladega Frights to the museum and introduced a family-focused carnival called Halloween Town.
The two attractions were an addition to the museum's annual Safe Halloween event, which set attendance records this year, Perez said. Though the museum director did not have final figures for the Halloween events as of Monday, the attractions met a long-standing museum goal of bringing in fresh faces, he said.
Wilbur hopes the new attraction will do the same thing, though this is his first go at staging a Christmas event.
"I think our goal is to be the best Christmas event in California, and we're on the right track," Wilbur said. "We hope it becomes a new family tradition. It's the right venue to come to for an overall Christmas experience."
Wilbur and his partner, Mike Ross, of Mike's Christmas Trees, put their crew of about 12 people to work after Halloween. Ross' trees will be sold on-site.
"We're different because we're more than lights," Wilbur said. "Lights are part of it, but we wanted to give people more to do to make a whole evening out of it. There's food, tubing, ice skating -- there's so much to do here, why would you go anywhere else?"
Of course Bakersfield isn't known for its snowy weather so Wilbur and his crew had to get creative for the ice-skating rink and sledding hill. Visitors will hit the synthetic ice with skates provided by Christmas Town, he said. The crew will blow real snow on a hill for sledding.
The historic Metcalf building will be transformed into Santa's house, where attendees can visit the man in red every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Custom-made foam "snow" will top the house, and a life-size sleigh and reindeer will welcome visitors.
Admittedly his own toughest critic, Wilbur said he has "a love/hate relationship" with all of the attractions and activities because of the work that's gone into each of them, including the water light show, a good candidate for show-stopper of the attraction.
Wilbur dreamed up the feature with longtime Talladega collaborator Kevin Hill, nicknamed "2.0" for his technological know-how. Hill has put his lighting knowledge to the test for this new endeavor.
"It's a challenge to work with (water) because it's an organic material," Hill said. "Water and electricity don't mix. You have to keep them separated."
But working through the technical challenges means a more magical Christmas Town, so Hill is willing to put in the late nights.
"A gift does give happiness but it has an expiration date -- it'll eventually be gone," he said. "Here people will leave with something more lasting, like the memory of holding hands with Grandpa on the hayride. That's something you can't buy at Wal-Mart or Costco."
The Christmas events cap a year of change and growth for the museum, which hosted the inaugural Kern County Nut Festival, among other festivities.
"We need to get our name on the map again, which we're starting to achieve," Perez said.
The events provide "a nice foundation to build on. At the end of the day, we're a museum of artifacts that need to be preserved. Between grants and projects like these, we get help preserving them and keeping the houses standing."